There are a lot of negative and stressful events occurring in our world every day – but when something like coronavirus (COVID-19) becomes so pervasive that it affects almost every country in the world, and is talked about almost every hour of the day, our children and teenagers can become quite anxious.
They may worry about many different things related to the virus – whether they or their family members will get sick, whether schools will close, whether they will be asked to stay away from loved ones and friends, whether they will be safe, or whether the virus will ever end. Sometimes, it is simply not knowing what will happen that creates the most fear (for young people and adults).
Children and teenagers are very observant – they see things changing, they hear the news and they talk with whoever they can about what’s happening. For some young people, this is a natural and healthy way to manage their worries about the situation. But for other young people, excessive focus on the issue can increase their fears and become unmanageable. Either way, the chances are young people will have lots of questions and will be seeking reassurance from those around them, and those they trust. As parents and caregivers, you might be wondering how best to respond to these questions.
The BRAVE Team are a team of Clinical Psychologists and experts in child and adolescent anxiety and have put together a set of simple tips for you and your young person to manage the stress associated with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Stay calm yourself
Children and teens look to their parents to work out how to respond. When parents are not calm it sends young people the message that they too should be panicking. Pay attention to how you talk about the virus to your children, each other and other people. Stick to the facts when talking about the virus. Speak calmly about it. Behave in a considered and rational way. Fear is just as contagious as this virus – and it is not helpful. The best way you can ‘vaccinate’ your child against fear around COVID-19 is to remain calm and rational yourself.
Think about the way young people receive their information
It can be helpful for parents to consider the way in which children and teenagers consume information about COVID-19 coronavirus. Constant exposure to news broadcasting can cause additional stress– children can’t always recognise fine differences between facts and messages designed to convey exaggerated threat. Help your child receive factual information in ways that are young-person friendly. Focus on the messages that are most important to children (think about what you want them to do – Regularly wash hands). Don’t forget to pay attention to how you talk about the virus to your children, each other and other people. Try not to panic – children are much more likely to keep calm if you do too.
Think about how you can answer questions
When young people are anxious, they tend to focus on the worst-case scenario and seek a lot of reassurance. Remind your children that there are a lot of people out there working hard to keep them and their loved ones safe, and we need to help in whatever way we can. Be there to listen and answer their questions, but try and keep an optimistic outlook. Help them see the range of possibilities and focus on what you can do right now to keep safe and manage stress. Try not to let them continue asking questions over and over – instead engage them in other activities and use the strategies from our Guide for Parents and Young people below, which you can use, print and share.
Remember that everyone worries about different things
We also need to remember that children may have different worries than teenagers and adults. For many younger children, their fears may focus on being separated from loved ones (including pets and toys) whereas older children and teenagers may worry about getting sick themselves or social isolation and missing out on things. It’s important to acknowledge their individual worries and help find strategies to manage these.
Help your young person find a strategy that works for them
Help your young person find some strategies for managing their anxiety. This might include family activities which can distract from fear and focus on positive experiences, or it might be things like encouraging your young person to listen to music, rediscover old hobbies, practice relaxation or mindfulness or connect with family and friends online. Encourage them (and all family members) to focus on other things during these activities. Remember, young people learn through experience – set a good example and try and remain calm as much as possible. Try and keep to your family routines as much as possible, stay healthy and active.
Finally, remember that it is normal to feel overwhelmed by such events. Reach out and find the right support for you and your child if required.